The Providence Civic Center was built in 1972. Its primary purpose was to house the emerging Providence Friars men’s basketball program. Led by Rhode Island high school legends Ernie DiGregorio and Marvin Barnes, the Friars had garnered enough local support and attention to merit a move from their small on-campus venue, Alumni Hall. The Civic Center was built during a time when mid-sized cities across the country were in a rush to create the same cookie cutter, mid-sized arenas. The 70’s was the era of Arena Rock. If your city wanted to appear on the backs of snazzy concert t-shirts then you had to have a Civic Center type of building. Similar arenas were constructed during that time in New Haven (The Coliseum), Hartford (The Civic Center), Springfield (The Civic Center), and Worcester (The Centrum). There were no sponsorship naming rights or even the desire to honor a local politician or war veteran. "Civic Center" was a good enough name for a lot of cities. This particular Civic Center in Providence would prove to be beneficial to both the Friars and the people of Rhode Island for the next 42 years and counting.
There’s nothing outwardly special or appealing about the building that has been known since 2001 as the Dunkin Donuts Center. There are no unique architectural designs or concepts. Modest renovations in 2008 brought some much needed comfort and modern amenities. The building’s appeal to fans and the general public has long been tied to the fortune of both the Friars and the city of Providence itself. In the late 90’s downtown Providence underwent a revitalization with the rerouting of the Woonasquatucket River to create Waterplace Park and the addition of the Providence Place Mall. People from around the region had a reason to go to the capital city of Rhode Island again. Fans attending present day Friar’s games have a number of attractive options to eat and drink in the immediate vicinity of "The Dunk". The off-campus venue gives adults the opportunity to be treated like adults (with mixed results). The arena is a short walk from the train station and parking is actually more convenient than would be expected in the condensed space of downtown Providence.
The best moment at the Dunkin Donuts Center? That depends on who you ask. Old school Rhode Islanders and PC alums would probably point to any number of spectacular moments in the arena’s inaugural season of 1972-1973. Indeed, Ernie D. dropping dimes and Marvin "Bad News" Barnes filling the lane on the way to the program’s first Final 4 must have been a sight to see. If you stuck around for the rest of the 70’s you would have seen no shortage of great moments under the tutelage of legendary coach and eventual Big East founder, Dave Gavitt. The Friars made the postseason in all but 1 year and had a couple of deep runs in the NIT. The 80’s would have given fans a narrower window from which to choose their favorite moment. Some point during the season Billy Donovan led the ‘87 Friars to the Final 4 would be the popular choice. The definitive moment of the 90’s could be any one of God Shammgod’s patented crossovers for the ’97 team on their way to the Elite 8. In recent times, one could point to February 22, 2002 when John Linehan set the career NCAA steals record or the upset of #1 ranked Pittsburgh in 2009.
For this Friars fan, the best moment came on March 1, 2005 at the end of one of the most remarkable careers in Providence College’s storied history. There were 20 seconds remaining in a win over Saint John’s and All American Ryan Gomes had just finished playing his last game for the Friars at the Dunk. He began untying his shoelaces at midcourt as coach Tim Welsh gave him a curtain call substitution. On his way to join his teammates on the bench he simply removed his shoes and placed them on the court as he prepared to continue the rest of his career and life. It was a simple gesture which has undoubtedly played out on senior nights at programs across the country, but it resonated with the Friar Faithful. Gomes was undersized and overlooked but possessed a natural, smooth athleticism in the post and the will and desire of a champion. He was, in a lot of ways, the most Providence player of them all. Providence isn’t an overly glamorous city and the Dunk will never be considered one of the classic venues in college basketball. It’s the players and fans of Providence College that have made an ordinary building a truly special place over the years.